From the vast canvas of the jungles to the sprawling, urban metropolis of towns and cities, there are not many documentaries that have graced us with such beauty, joy, drama and engaging fascination. That, in summary, encapsulates the BAFTA award-winning Planet Earth II. With the soothing voice of a national treasure in Sir David Attenborough, Planet Earth II is very much a personal and breathtaking journey into the intimate lives of animals and creatures as you’ve never seen before.
Bringing that emotion back to life was a unique opportunity for the Royal Albert Hall. As part of their Films in Concert series and in conjunction with the BBC, Planet Earth II: Live in Concert represented the first time use of documentary footage in their line-up. However, the intimate occasion wasn’t without a certain surprise. Making a special guest appearance was the Academy-Award winning composer Hans Zimmer and Jacob Shea, two out of the three composers (the third being Jasha Klebe) responsible for the beautiful music you hear throughout the series and one of many big cheers during the matinee performance.
But as Hans graciously pointed out, the event was not about him. It was about the bigger picture. It was about the journey we were about to embark on once again. It was about reliving a documentary that took four years to make. It was about reliving a documentary that had the spectacle and grandeur of a big Hollywood production (with 400 terabytes worth of footage recorded, the equivalent of 82,000 DVDs). It was about reliving a documentary that gripped the world back in 2016 and became a social phenomenal. This was going to be an audio and visual celebration and it was an awe-inspiring experience to behold.
Familiarising us with that exploration once again was host and executive producer of Planet Earth II, Michael Gunton. His series of introductions and insightful production experiences set the magical tone and expectation. My personal favourite dealt with a thieving monkey who stole a wallet from one of his producers, thinking there was food inside. When it realised there was nothing, it chucked all the money into the street.
Whilst watching the footage and the orchestra can be a bit distracting (in terms of where to focus on), thanks to the expert conducting by Jessica Cottis, the BBC Concert Orchestra and the London Voices, their passionate endeavours did not go unnoticed. When everything came together, it was amazing to witness how much that music can evoke so many emotions and memories. Its greatest musical strength was in its violins and cellos which were a literal pull on the heartstrings, especially when playing the main theme from Planet Earth II.
No matter how times I’ve watched the footage, the most popular and favourite moment out of the series has to be the baby marine iguanas vs. the Galapagos Racer snakes. From the very moment they are born, the baby iguanas face an instantaneous life and death situation. Think of it like Mad Max: Fury Road – it’s a perilous chase towards safety and salvation away from predators. The sequence was so intense that I couldn’t help myself as my silent screams came to the forefront of my mind – “RUN LITTLE DUDE, RUN!” The music is built upon escalation as it takes you through the highs and lows of the chase at every dramatic pause. To watch that sequence with a mass audience was a gift because you realise that you’re not alone and they’re going through the same emotions as you are.
Another personal favourite (which I’m happy it got notable attention) was the lions vs. giraffe chase. It’s a scene full of conflicting and powerful emotions and once again showcases the power of footage, storytelling and its epic score. Musically it is the sound of several stampedes rolled into one with an edginess that builds until its final climax. As Michael Gunton described the segment, it was aptly called ‘No Such Thing as an Easy Meal’.
But the musical performance also reminds you of the beauty. Something as scenic as starlings dancing in the evening sky can feel dream-like and romantic. It was not afraid to exercise charm as you watch a pygmy three-toed sloth move Heaven and Earth to answer a female mating call. After the finale and the traditional encore, there was nothing but smiles and it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
But if anything, Planet Earth II is a symbolic and balanced reminder of how incredibly big and beautiful this world is. Through evolving changes, its lasting impact is the co-existence with humanity and the animal world. Through its extensive, ambitious and thorough production as well as its beautiful music, they will always have a story to tell.
Did you attend Planet Earth II: Live in Concert? If so, let us know your thoughts.